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Riding Helmet Safety Guide: Choosing the Safest Horse Riding Helmet
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Riding Helmet Safety Guide: Choosing the Safest Horse Riding Helmet

Horseback riding is the leading cause of sport-related traumatic brain injuries.

Wearing a helmet can reduce your risk of severe head injuries. However, not all riding helmets provide the same level of protection. Your helmet’s fit, features, certifications, and use can all impact its ability to protect you.

This helmet safety guide will review everything you need to know about choosing the safest riding helmet. Keep reading to learn more about equestrian helmet standards and how to stay safe in the saddle.

Why Every Rider Should Wear a Helmet

While surveys show horseback riding significantly benefits physical and mental health, it also has a high risk of injury. [1] But that doesn’t mean you should give up the sport you love. Helmet use helps reduce these risks and protects riders so they can enjoy their horses.

Horseback Riding Risks

Riding and handling horses has inherent risks. Horses are large, powerful animals. Even the quietest horse can behave unpredictably. And even the most experienced equestrian can have an accident.

Research suggests 81% of riders will experience an injury during their riding career, and one in five equestrians will have a severe injury. [2] Concussion is the most frequent cause of hospitalization for riders. [3]

Traumatic Brain Injuries

A concussion is a type of traumatic brain injury. These injuries occur when sudden trauma damages the brain. Riders can get traumatic brain injuries from falls if their head suddenly hits an object or if an object pierces the skull.

Most discussions about sport-related concussions focus on contact sports. However, horseback riding has higher rates of severe brain injuries than skiing, rugby, and football combined.

One review linked 45.2% of traumatic brain injuries in adults to horseback riding. Contact sports were the second-leading cause of these injuries, accounting for just 20.2%20.2%. [4]

Helmet Use in Horseback Riding

The same review found helmets led to an absolute head injury risk reduction of 40-50% in equestrian sports. Despite these findings, helmet use in horseback riding remained dismally low. [4]

One survey found significantly higher rates of helmet use for self-reported concussions than reported in hospital data. These findings suggest helmets play a vital role in reducing the severity of concussions and decreasing the need for urgent medical care. [5]

Several equestrian sports organizations now require helmet use in competition. Thankfully, helmet use for all equestrians is increasing alongside safety awareness and technological advancements that help keep riders safe.

Riding Helmet Safety Standards

Riding helmets reduce injury risks by dissipating the impact force during falls or accidents. The best riding helmets undergo extensive testing to meet industry safety standards.

ASTM/SEI Certification

Many equestrian associations require ASTM/SEI-certified helmets.

The American Society for Testing and Materials (ASTM) is a nonprofit organization that develops safety standards for a wide range of products and industries. The Safety Equipment Institute (SEI) conducts independent tests to ensure products meet those standards.

Do not use an uncertified helmet for riding, as these can be unsafe. Helmets certified for other activities are also inappropriate for riding, as testing standards differ for every sport.

All Back on Track Trauma Void helmets have recently passed the new SEI/ASTM Certification Standard ASTM F1163-23.

Helmet Safety Testing

The current ASTM/SEI testing standard includes impact and retention tests.

The testing evaluates:

  • Head coverage requirements
  • Performance under impact
  • Ability of retention system to withstand jerking load
  • Ability of retention system to maintain the helmet position on the wearer
  • If the visor flexes or breaks without injuring the face

SEI labs use computer sensors to document the impact force when the helmet drops from a standard height onto a flat anvil and an anvil with a sharp corner. Testing also includes performance tests after exposure to extreme temperatures and water submersion.



Mips Safety for Helmets


Multi-Directional Impact Protection System, or Mips, is a helmet safety system designed to reduce rotational motion to the brain during an accident. Riding helmets with Mips have an integrated low-friction layer that absorbs and redirects rotational force from an angled impact.


Studies show oblique impacts cause significantly higher levels of strain on the brain due to the rotational motion. [6] MIPS allows the helmet to rotate slightly during a fall without impacting your head.

Most riding helmets are designed and tested for linear impacts, which research suggests offers inadequate protection for equine-related injuries. [7] Riders are more likely to hit their head at an oblique angle during a fall from a horse.

Only a few equestrian brands offer Mips riding helmets. Back on Track was the first equestrian helmet manufacturer to integrate Mips into their helmets.

Riding Helmet Safety Ratings

Researchers at Virginia Tech established an independent STAR rating system to evaluate which helmets best reduce concussion risk. STAR stands for Summation of Tests for the Analysis of Risk.

The STAR score reflects the helmet’s performance in sports-specific impact tests. A lower STAR score offers better protection. Researchers also assign a number of stars from one to five to each helmet, with five being the best.

When Virginia Tech released its first equestrian helmet ratings in 2022, Back on Track’s Trauma Void EQ3 ranked in the top 10.

However, these ratings did not account for oblique and rotational impacts. Folksam, a Swedish insurance company, publishes independent helmet ratings that include results from oblique impacts.

The Folksam helmet ratings found MIPS helmets performed up to 40% better than the average helmet. Back on Track Trauma Void helmets earned Best in Test and Good Choice ratings in the Folksam study.

Riding Helmet Buying Guide

Safety should be your biggest priority when purchasing a new riding helmet. But the safest helmet in the world can’t protect you if it doesn’t fit you correctly or you don’t wear it consistently. The best helmet for you will depend on helmet style, features, and fit.

Helmet Styles

Most equestrian helmet brands offer different styles to suit riders from every part of the horse industry. Some disciplines require a specific style of helmet.

Skull Caps


Skull caps, or jockey skulls, do not have a fixed visor or peak. These helmets provide more coverage of the rider’s head for added protection. Riders often add jockey silks or helmet covers with soft fabric visors.


Skull caps are the safest helmets for racing and eventing cross country. These sports have a higher risk of high-speed falls, which could lead to more head damage if the rider falls on a fixed visor. The visor can also impair vision in a racing position.

Standard Helmets


TraumaVoid EQ3 Smooth Top Standard Helmet
Standard helmets, or fixed-peak helmets, are the most popular style of helmet for general riding, show jumping, and dressage. The built-in visor protects your eyes and face from the sun and rain. Some helmets have a soft visor to reduce injury risk.


Wide-brim models with extended visors provide extra protection from the sun. These helmets are popular for polo riders and equestrians in sunny climates. You can also buy separate visors to use on helmets with standard peaks.

Velvet Helmets

TraumaVoid EQ3 Micromocca Velvet Riding Helmet

Velvet helmets are standard helmet models with a velvet or microsuede finish. While some riders prefer a smooth finish, these riding hats are an elegant, traditional option for hunting and showing. Trauma Void micromocca helmets have a microsuede finish.

Microsuede materials are more resistant to scratches. But helmets with matte surfaces are typically easier to clean.

Helmet Features

Your riding helmet’s features significantly influence your comfort and protection. Choosing a helmet with the right liner, ventilation, and harness can help prevent some of the most common problems riders have with helmets.


Helmet liners cushion the inside of your helmet and make it comfortable to wear. Back on Track Trauma Void helmets have a removable lining you can easily wash.

Regularly washing your liner removes built-up sweat and foul odors. You can also replace your helmet’s lining with a thicker version to better adapt to your head shape.

Liners with breathable, moisture-wicking materials will help keep your head dry. Trauma Void helmets have inner linings with Coolmax® technology that wicks away moisture.


Most modern riding helmets have ventilation to prevent your head from overheating. Ventilation holes allow airflow over your head so cool air can enter and hot air can escape.

However, large ventilation holes are weak points where sharp objects can penetrate your head. Look for helmets that provide good airflow without compromising safety.

The Trauma Void Lynx Eventing Helmet has ventilation holes lined with nets to prevent objects from getting into the helmet.


Your helmet’s chin strap and harness ensure it stays in place and does not shift during an accident. Harnesses should be secure and easily adjustable. Padding along the chinstrap helps improve comfort when the helmet is fastened.

The Lynx Eventing Helmet's harness has adjustable lacing in the neck to customize the fit and improve stability.

Helmet Fitting

Riding helmets must fit you well to provide the best protection. A well-fitting helmet sits comfortably without pressure points but stays firmly in place, with the chin strap adjusted properly beneath the chin. New helmets should fit snugly as the lining will mold to your head.


Helmet sizing is based on the circumference of your head.

To measure your helmet size, wrap a soft fabric measuring tape around the widest part of your head, over your hair. The tape should follow a line slightly above your eyebrows and earline.

Repeat a few times for accuracy and record the measurement in cm and inches. This measurement is your helmet size. Back on Track Trauma Void helmets are available in a wide range of sizes to fit nearly every rider.


Just because a helmet is your size doesn’t mean it will fit perfectly. The shape of the riding helmet should match the shape of your head. Riding helmets can have an oval, round, or universal shape.

If you feel pressure on your forehead from the helmet, you may need a more oval shape. Pressure on the sides of your head from the helmet could indicate you need a rounder shape.

Oval Trauma Void Helmets:

Round Trauma Void Helmets:

Universal Trauma Void Helmets:


Adjustable riding helmets are ideal for riders between sizes. Helmets with dials that allow you to tighten or loosen the helmet’s fit can also help customize the helmet to your head shape.

An adjustable helmet also lets you alter the fit to accommodate changing hairstyles. Riders that school with their hair down and show with their hair tucked into the helmet often prefer adjustable models.

Trauma Void Helmets with Dial-Fit System:

Helmet Replacement

Riding helmets have a maximum lifespan of five years from the date of first use. Natural wear and tear degrade the protective materials over time. Most manufacturers recommend you replace your riding helmet every three to five years.

You should always replace your helmet after a fall. Impacts of any size can compromise the helmet’s protective qualities. Studies found repeated impacts reduced foam liner thickness, decreasing the helmet’s ability to dissipate impact force and increasing head injury risk. [8]

Never purchase a secondhand helmet. You don’t know if these helmets have invisible damage.

Back on Track offers a helmet replacement policy to help riders stay safe. This policy allows riders who purchased any Trauma Void helmet to purchase a replacement helmet at 50% off the original price. The policy lasts for two years after the date of purchase.

Back on Track Trauma Void Riding Helmets

Trauma Void helmets use advanced protective technology to keep riders safe. These helmets undergo extensive testing to earn safety certifications and ensure every model provides optimal protection.

Back on Track was the first helmet manufacturer to bring Mips helmets to the equestrian world in 2009. In recent years, Trauma Void helmets have earned top ratings from independent testing organizations.

Trauma Void helmet safety highlights include:

  • ASTM/SEI certified
  • Mips safety system
  • Top 10 Virginia Tech helmet rating
  • Best in Test and Good Choice in Folksam study
  • Crash replacement policy

Stay Safe in the Saddle

You only get one brain. Protect it with the safest riding helmets available.

Equestrians are athletes. Injury prevention is just as crucial for riders as it is for athletes in any other sport. While horseback riding will always involve risk, helmets can help riders stay safe so they can keep enjoying the sport and horses they love.

Only wear ASTM/SEI-certified riding helmets that have passed multiple safety standards. And wear one every time you ride.

Looking for a safe riding helmet? Check out Back on Track’s Trauma Void helmets.

  1. Malchrowicz-Mosko, E. et al. Perceived Benefits for Mental and Physical Health and Barriers to Horseback Riding Participation. The Analysis among Professional and Amateur Athletes. Int J Environ Res Public Health. 2020.
  2. Mayberry, J. et al. Equestrian injury prevention efforts need more attention to novice riders. J Trauma. 2007.
  3. Bixby-Hammett, D. and Brooks, W. Common injuries in horseback riding. A review. Sports Med. 1990.
  4. Zuckerman, S. et al. Functional and Structural Traumatic Brain Injury in Equestrian Sports: A Review of the Literature. World Neurosurg. 2015.
  5. Glace, B. et al. Incidence of concussions and helmet use in equestrians. J Sci Med Sport. 2023.
  6. Keiven, S. Why Most Traumatic Brain Injuries are Not Caused by Linear Acceleration but Skull Fractures are. Front Bioeng Biotechnol. 2013.
  7. Carter, B.T. and Richardson, M.D. A retrospective study of helmet use and head injury in severe equestrian trauma. J Neurosci Rural Pract. 2023.
  8. Mattacola, C. et al. Repeated Impacts Diminish the Impact Performance of Equestrian Helmets. J Sport Rehabil. 2019.
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